The Arm: A Brief Update

As expected, the insurance company providing Workmen's Comp coverage for my employer wanted a second opinion before agreeing to new surgery and a revision of the original shoulder arthroplasty from December.  So I'm scheduled for an "independent medical examination" on May 8th.  The doctor they're sending me to seems well qualified; he does a lot of knee and shoulder repairs for professional and collegiate sports teams here.

Still having problems, sometimes significant problems, with pain and stiffness in the right arm.  I move the arm slowly and carefully, because quick or abrupt movements make the chronic deep ache turn into sharp bolts of pain.

I don't like taking narcotics, and so far I've managed to get by with doses of Tylenol and Alleve and an occasional Celebrex.  But I'm taking more OTC analgesics, more often, than I ever have before, and that comes with its own cautions.  (Watch those kidneys!)

At this point, as inconvenient and unpleasant as additonal surgery might be, it looks like the best course of action.  Because living like this isn't a long-term option.  This is a drag.

Yeah, "like something the cat dragged in."  Exactly.

So Lafferty, Vonnegut, and van Vogt Walk Into A Bar...

Completed a new short story last night, about 4700 words.  That's three stories in four months; I'm pretty sure that's a record for me. 

Title is "Julius Jeremiah and The Time Machinist", and it's spun off this old fragment of writing I posted about back in January.  I think of it as "R.A. Lafferty meets Kurt Vonnegut meets A.E. van Vogt meet the Marx Brothers."  It's a little on the weird side.  Just a little.

Let it stew for a few days before re-reading and revisions.

Last week I started going to a monthly writers group that meets at the local library.  I'm not certain if I should submit this particular story there.  Hard to tell from one meeting, but I may be the only person in the group who writes sf/fantasy.  That doesn't always work out well.  Science fiction on a more than Star Trek level sometimes requires at least a passing familiarity with the tropes and memes of the genre's past, otherwise it can just be confusing.

(My mother rarely read science fiction, and generally considered it, oh, trash.  She told me once, in my late teens, that she'd tried reading one of the books off my bedroom shelf to see if she could figure out why science fiction appealed to me so much.  She said she could not make heads or tails out of the book, she could not figure out what was going on, that it utterly confused her.  Thinking she might have gotten hold of something like Brian Aldiss' Barefoot In The Head, I asked what the title or author had been.  "I don't remember," she told me.  "but it had a spaceship on the cover."  That sure narrowed it down; I'm still not sure what she tried to read.  But Mom didn't know the 'language' of sf, and I think that's a major reason why she might have found it perplexing.)


The Brave Free Books

I've been checking out a few e-books offered for free online.  One of the popular marketing techniques for getting people to read and talk about your e-book is to offer it for free for a period of time.  In the case of self-published e-books, this usually seems to be for several months, followed by a low price ($2.99 seems to be the most popular price point, or $0.99 if the work isn't a full novel) being attached.  Ideally, the free copies downloaded create word-of-mouth that brings people in to actually buy copies after the free period expires.  (And some self-publishers just want people to read their work, so they keep their work available for free.)

Some traditional publishers also offer particular books either heavily discounted for a short promotional period, or actually free.  The latter mostly seem to be for the first volume in a series, offered briefly when a later volume is just coming onto the market.

One place I've found for those offers is Barnes & Noble's "Free Fridays" .  Every Friday, a free book is available for download to a Nook e-reader or Nook app for a week.  Categories vary from week to week: epic fantasy, romance, urban fantasy, mainstream lit, suspense, inspirational, etc.  So it's a bit of a potluck, but I've downloaded a few Nook books from the Free Friday offerings, and generally find them worth reading.

Well . . . not always.

EVERYBODY'S DAUGHTER by Michael John Sullivan is a Christian time travel fantasy, wherein a troubled father travels back in time to Jerusalem about the time of Jesus' arrival and subsequent crucifixion.  He's followed by his teenage daughter, but the daughter arrives at a different time, when her father is nowhere to be found.  (This is not their first trip back to Jerusalem.  In an earlier book, Necessary Heartbreak, they apparently went back together and met Judas Iscariot, among others; the father still carries some of Judas' silver in his pocket from that earlier trip.)

The book unfortunately opens with a howler of a first sentence: "Jingling the silver coins between his fingers that he had retrieved so many centuries ago[...]".  The writing, on a sentence level, gets better after that, but I had trouble with the characterization and plotting of the book.  The characters seemed inconsistent, especially some of the secondary characters.  Ideally, plot flows naturally from characters' actions as they react to the events around them.  I got the impression that Sullivan had plot points planned, and he forced his characters to move towards those plot points whether they wanted to or not. 

The big choking point came with trying to figure out just when the father and daughter had made their separate arrivals in Jerusalem.  For most of the book, it appeared that they had arrived at least months apart.  I also wondered if the father and daughter's presence might have created two separate timelines.  But if the last few chapters Sullivan seems to be saying they were not only in the same timeline, but only a few days apart.  My suspension of disbelief was blown out the window.

(Sullivan's portrayal of Jesus is also a very "Godly", Sunday-school version.  When I read portrayals of Jesus, I always prefer they be more human, with smelly armpits, dirty feet, and flashes of temper and despair.)

I wanted to like the book.  I didn't.

(Since the Free Friday offering, the price on the ebook has gone back to $3.47)

From the general free listings at B&N, I also tried one of the "always-free" books:

KILL-BASA: NEW FLAVORS IN ZOMBIE HORROR by Sean Graham is a collection of five zombie stories.  Most are very pulpish, with slam-bang non-stop action.  "Dummies" gives a more traditional, non-Romero style zombie story.  "Lee's Decision" has Robert E. Lee making a Faustian bargain to win the Civil War.   But neither story impressed me, despite the attempt to put a twist on the idea of zombies.

The one story that did impress me, a bit, was "Ten Count".  It was a Romero-style zombie story, a meme that's getting really stale.  But it impressed me because the characters in it weren't cartoons or cardboard, which was where the other stories mostly failed.   But it needed polish, it needed still more depth to the characters.  It impressed me because it had potential, but it also disappointed because it could have been harder-hitting, even moving, with a bit more work and development. 

Sean Graham's had a number of other short stories published in small press venues.  I'd like to see him get a little more experience and practice before I try his work again.

I've got a few more of the Free Friday offerings and a couple of other free books sitting in the Nook app on my smartphone.  I may make "The Brave Free Books" a semi-regular feature here.


Self-Publishing: Should I Join The Crowd?

I've been eyeing the explosive growth in self-publishing over the last few years, and pondering the idea of collecting together some of the short stories I've had published over the years.  I'm about 98% decided to go ahead with the idea.

One of the reasons I haven't considered it more seriously until now is that self-publishing was mostly seen as the field of amateurs and not-ready-for-prime-time writers, the people who in previous eras would have paid big bucks to vanity presses for a pallet-load of printed books that would sit in their garage forever afterwards.

The explosion started with the advent of print-on-demand publishers like Lulu.com, where the book's contents would sit as an electronic file on Lulu's servers, until -- Oh, my god! -- someone actually ordered and paid for a single copy to be printed and shipped.  Drawback: Printing books one at a time, even with largely automated and standardized printing technology, made the books pretty expensive.

Enter the spreading democratization of e-books.  The Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble's Nook, the Sony Reader, e-reading applications for computers and smartphones, all creating an increasingly large base of customers who are willing to read books off a video display instead of having an actual printed book in their hands.  Concurrent with that, an explosion of services started coming available for ordinary citizens to produce and make available their own works.  (Smashwords is probably the best known.)

The problem is making your e-book stand out from the crowd.  Traditional publishers are still able to provide better design, marketing and distribution resources, even for their shiny new e-book divisions.  Professional writers, if they can, still prefer to be published that way.  But we're seeing more and more pro writers using e-books as a way to replace the largely vanished backlist, to republish their older books that have gone out of print and had rights reverted.  This, in turn, is giving self-published e-books a new measure of respectability.  I think this is a great thing.

But there are still all the amateur and not-ready writers out there still publishing their darlings in the thousands, with their thumbnail images cluttering up display pages on numerous bookseller websites.  It's a mob out there, and you need to stand out somehow.

One way is to have a name.  That's one reason more and more professionals are putting their backlist books online; they're a known quantity, so they make (usually slow, but steady) sales based on that recognition factor.

I don't have much of a name.  People tend not to remember mostly-short-stories writers, even the best (otherwise Robert Reed would be a science-fiction superstar).  My output of short stories, even at my best, was usually only two or three a year, not all of which sold.  Scattered over thirty years, I didn't get published frequently enough to be remembered much between stories, or over my writing career (such as it was).  Google me, and the big-ticket item that stands out is the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode ("Clues") I wrote back in 1990.  That's not fodder for re-publishing.

But a few of my stories still get occasionally remembered and inquired about, particularly "Death and the Ugly Woman".  So if I were to put together a collection, that be the lead story.  So I've got a little (tiny) (eensy-weeny) advantage over a complete newbie casting their work into the waters of e-commerce.

I've looked over my published stories; not all of them have a crying need to be reprinted.  I'm thinking of collecting about a half dozen of the best published stories, plus a few selections from my unsold efforts.  (Some of those unsold works deserved their fate, but a few of them... they may not have sold, but dammit... they should have!)

One of the most common things that makes people look askance at self-published books are the covers.  Designing a good book cover is a skill.  It's not a skill quickly learned.  I've got a little (tiny) (eensy-weeny) advantage there, too.  I've been putting out fanzines since the early 70's, and have been goofing around with covers and illustrations almost all that time.   Some of those goofing-arounds worked, some didn't, and I hope I've learned a little about which is which in all that time.  Plus I did the rough concept and design for COPPER STAR, the "Southwestern fantasy" anthology I edited and produced for the 1991 World Fantasy Convention.  (It got a professional tweaking before going to press.)

Looking at cover images of self-published books is great fun, if you like having your eyeballs bleed.  There are some... spectacularly dreadful... covers out there.  And lots and lots more that loudly go *clunk* or are just just unimpressive.  So one of the most important things I'd want would be a striking cover.

I've been looking at a lot of images online.  Because I'm a tightwad, I'd prefer to use cover elements available under public domain.  A detail from Heironymous Bosch got strongly considered; some other images got considered and abandoned.  I also came across a couple of pieces on DeviantArt that could have been suitable, if I decided to go ahead and pay for repro rights.  But then I stumbled across the work of Kathe Kollwitz, a German Expressionist artist in the early part of the 20th Century.  In particular, a 1921 print called "The Widow" seemed to have strong resonance with the themes of sorrow and loss in "Death and the Ugly Woman".  In keeping with the laudatory principle of K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid), I worked up a cover rough using just black and white and red.  I think it works pretty well.

This isn't a finished cover yet. The title font has some clear kerning problems, and the author-name font looks too heavy. I put this together using some of the default fonts that came installed with Word 2007, and the final fonts will almost certainly be different.  Typographical placement and size will probably be tweaked a bit, too.  But it shows what I'm trying for, and I think it works pretty well.
A cover's just one step. Final decisions on contents, supplementary material, page design, proofreading, ISBN and barcodes, pricing, etc., etc., are still ahead.  Plus considerable study and fiddling around with software and resources to make it the best I can make it.  (thebookdesigner.com has a lot of useful articles.)  I figure it will probably be several months before the collection is available, probably longer if my second shoulder surgery happens in the interim.



Who Will Win The Game of Thrones? THIS Guy:

That's right, "Hot Pie", one of the most-minor of the many minor named characters on Game of Thrones.

Everybody else  on the damn show is either stuck in dangerous, life-threatening situations, or actively seeking out dangerous, life-threatening situations.

Not Hot Pie.  When he sees an opportunity to spend his time baking bread at a country inn, he takes it.  He drops off the radar, keeps his head down, and bides his time.

Because all he has to do is wait long enough, and GRRM will kill off every other character.  He can drive into Kings' Landing with a wagonload of bread for the populace, step over the bodies littering the throne room, and take an unopposed seat on the Iron Throne.

Hot Pie.  Smartest fucking guy in fucking Westeros.


Arizona BBQ Festival 2013

Every once in a while Hilde and I need to remind ourselves that there's more to the world than the house and doctors' offices.  So when I saw there was a barbeque festival being held this weekend in Scottsdale, I went ahead and got tickets.
The Arizona BBQ Festival was held on the grounds of Salt River Fields, a large multi-diamond baseball/sports facility.  Besides numerous BBQ and other food vendors, there was live music, cooking demonstrations, the Redneck Games Arena---
---where they had such events as Dead Lawnmower Racing, Hubcap Hurling, Arm Wrestling, and Bobbing For Pigs Feet.  We left a little early to catch the contests for Best Redneck Moustache, Best Redneck Tattoo, and Best Daisy Dukes & Cowboy Boots.

There was also a children's area, with lots of inflatable slides and other activities for the kids there.
We caught several of the cooking demonstrations.  The 4:00 event was Chef Craig Driml of Uncle Bear's Grill & Bar (a growing chain of "comfort food" -- burgers, pizzas, BBQ, chili, etc -- restaurants, named after the owner's dog), where some very nice pulled pork sliders were prepared and served to the audience.
The 5:00 demo was by Chef Mel Mecinas from the Four Seasons Resort in North Scottsdale.  The Four Seasons is very upscale, and I have to say there was a noticeable difference in quality between Uncle Bear's food ("very nice", as I said above) and the brisket and coleslaw prepared by Chef Mecinas.  The brisket was excellent, deeply flavored, pulling apart easily, and served so fresh from the oven that the slices of meat were still hot enough to zing your fingertips if you tried to eat the brisket by hand.  But what really impressed me was Mecinas' coleslaw.
I detest coleslaw.  It always seems to be a standard side dish for BBQ, fried chicken, and other comfort-food dishes, and it always sucks.  It takes ingredients that are perfectly usable and edible in other dishes, and combines them into a product to which the best reaction is "Blehhh."  In the last forty years or more, I don't think I've eaten more than a teaspoon or two of the default-coleslaw found on most tables.  But I tried a forkful of Mecinas' coleslaw... and I wanted more.  Holy crap, it tasted good.  Really no-frikkin'-around good.
I wasn't the only person in the demo's audience impressed by the coleslaw.  Mecinas was asked if a recipe was available.  No, actually; he'd thrown the coleslaw together by eye and taste, and didn't have formal proportions or measurements available.  But here's the list of ingredients, as closely as I could hear or reconstruct them. (The helicopter-rides vendor was close by, and copters taking off or landing occasionally drowned out the audio in the cooking demo tent.):
  • Napa cabbage
  • Raddichio
  • Apple
  • Fennel
  • Fresh tarragon
  • Celery seed
  • 2 parts creme fraiche
  • 1 part mayonaisse
  • Sherry vinegar
  • Cider vinegar
  • Sugar

There may also have been a dash of kosher salt and/or pepper in there.  But now I want to go to Four Seasons and try their restaurants.

One of the bands listed to perform at the Festival, Voodoo Swing, sounded like the type of fast-beat, pounding-rhythm ("Rockabilly" is the usual term) performers I frequently enjoy.  But Hilde and I were still in line at one of the food vendors on the opposite side of the Festival when they began their set.  Which was actually a good thing.  I've complained before that too many live performers seem to feel obliged to turn their amplifiers to "11" when they're playing in public.  Voodoo Swing appears to be yet another.  I could hear their music pretty damn well even way over in the food court area.  If I'd been in the official audience area by the bandstand, it would have been physically painful.

As it turned out, I did enjoy Voodoo Swing, as long as I was far enough away to hear them at a tolerable level.  Here's a YouTube video for "My Rockabilly Martian Gal" from their latest album.  (C'mon, could I really write a post this long without including a science-fiction connection?)

And that's how we spent an afternoon actually acting like normal people.


Warrior-Monks, Celibacy, and PERSON OF INTEREST

Hilde and I have been watching the CBS drama PERSON OF INTEREST since it began.  Synopsis for those who haven't:  Following 9/11, the US government financed the building of an advanced computer system capable of hacking and coordinating data from, essentially, every security camera, audio pickup, internet communication, and database in the US, and then identifying potential terroists before they act.  Side-effect, largely irrelevant to the government, is that "The Machine" (secured in a hidden location) can also identify ordinary citizens who are at risk for (or about to commit) crime and danger.  HAROLD FINCH, the computer genius who built the Machine (but retained backdoor access to its findings) has gone underground for reasons still not fully disclosed.  He recruits JOHN REESE, a disillusioned former US covert-operations operative, to help save (or stop) these at-risk (or risky) individuals.  Two NYPD detectives, CARTER and FUSCO, also regularly assist in these missions.  Additional useful assistance is occasionally given by others.

What this reminded me of initially was THE SHADOW, the pulp hero that originated back in the 1930's.  Finch acts as the more cerebral "Lamont Cranston" aspect of the hero, whereas Reese is the physical "action-hero" aspect, skilled in martial arts and backed up by guns.  The Shadow also had a cadre of assistants he called on from time to time.

But what struck me most recently while watching was that all the major characters are celibate.  Not in a declared "Hey, we're celibate!" manner.  In Finch's and Reese's case, this seems to be a deliberate choice, because their current careers would put anyone close to them at high risk.  Reese has had clear opportunities offered to him, and it's fairly clear that he turned them down.

Carter and Fusco are also portrayed as celibate, though not always by choice.  Part of the recent story arc across multiple episodes featured a potential romantic partner for Carter... who was murdered before it could fully develop.  Fusco is divorced, with a young son, but he's also an overweight, middle-aged, dumpy-looking guy with an abrasive personality who probably has never had all that much luck romantically even in his best days. 

(One episode had two simultaneous notifications from the Machine, so while Finch and Reese took on the "big" mission, they let Fusco handle the "easy" case.  Throughout the rest of the episode, we saw brief glimpses of Fusco and the supermodel-gorgeous woman he was rescuing involved in high-speed chases, fierce firefights, and all the typical things that Reese usually gets into.   Fusco got to be John-Reese-For-A-Day.  And at episode's end, the supermodel-gorgeous woman gives Fusco a long, intense kiss... and then walks away.)

(I actually find Fusco the most interesting character on POI.  When we first met his character, he was one of a group of corrupt, bribe-taking cops.  After Reese (barely) spared Fusco's life when the corrupt cops tried to kill Reese, Fusco was essentially blackmailed into assisting Finch and Reese in their further operations.  Slowly, he's found a new sense of direction and self-respect.  Finch, Reese, and Carter are all essentially "good guys" from the beginning.  But Fusco is a bad guy who's struggling to escape his corrupt past and become a good man again.  Kudos to actor Kevin Chapman for his portrayal.)

Once I noticed the celibate aspects of the main characters, I started thinking "Hey, these guys are Warrior-Monks!"  Another item to support this is that, when possible, Reese avoids killing bad guys and shoots them in the knees instead.  (The busiest, and richest, doctors in New York City are orthopedic surgeons.)

Ther have been some pretty strong hints as the series progresses that The Machine is becoming more than a machine, that it's developing its own intelligence and consciousness.  Am I saying that Finch and Reese are "on a mission from God"?  It seems the series might be moving in that direction.  (It's a J.J. Abrams series, who's not unknown for inserting mystical or theological elements into other works.)

And, if nothing else makes you want to watch:  "Bear", Best Dog On Television:


Paolo Soleri, 1919-2013

I've been surprised that I've seen so little mention in science-fiction circles of the April 9th death of visionary architect Paolo Soleri. Soleri originated the term "arcology".

The idea of an arcology is an imploded city, the opposite of sururban sprawl. His massive book, THE CITY IN THE IMAGE OF MAN (1969), featured drawings of massive (but relatively small-footprint) self-contained cities, cities that reached high into the sky and deep into the ground. Because they were designed to be self-contained and self-supporting, they could be located in marginal areas. (One design was for a city using air-space by spanning a section of the Grand Canyon.)

A 2011 article on ARCH DAILY gave a good overview of his life and career.  He spent more than forty years slowly building a small-scale version (5,000 intended population) arcology, Arcosanti, still not complete, in rural Arizona, assisted by students and acolytes.  With shoestring funding (mostly by sales of ceramic and metal bells made by Soleri) and built largely with hand labor, even the fraction completed so far is impressive. 

I believe Soleri's work was one of the big inspirations for Robert Silverberg's "Urban Monad" stories (collected as THE WORLD INSIDE), tales of life inside mile-high skyscraper-cities.  Soleri's work and ideas have influenced other writers' "future cities" as well.

Personally, I came across a copy of CITY IN THE IMAGE OF MAN in the Arizona State University library in the early 1970's.  (It's fair to call it a coffee-table book; it's literally about the size of a coffee-table top.) "Wow," I said as I paged through it.  "Wow."  Sensawunda extreme.

Soleri may not have been a science-fiction writer, but his vision and ideas have surely influenced the field.  So, again, I'm surprised that I haven't seen more SF people commenting on his death.

Paolo Soleri, 1919-2013


The Arm: Pain Issues, and A Probable Re-Do

My most recent post about breaking my arm and the subsequent recovery process, "Two Steps Back", reported that I'd started experiencing a recurrence of pain at a level similar to a month or so after the surgery in December.

Up to that point, about mid-March, recovery had been slow but forward.  My range of motion and ability to use the right arm fell into three categories:
  • The Functional Zone, essentially pain-free, mostly involving use of the hand, wrist and forearm, plus about 40 to 45 degrees of forward-lifting motion (less for sideways motion) for the arm as a whole. 
  • Then there was the Uncomfortable Zone, up to about 90 degrees forward, where I could feel some strain and aching while I was using the arm, but the strain and ache would recede quickly when I dropped back into the Functional Zone. 
  • Then there was the Forbidden Zone, trying to go up past that 90-degree point (only a few degrees unassisted, a bit further with assistance or exercise pulleys), where the aching slid into the point of actual sharp pain, and where it would still ache and throb for a fair while after dropping back into the more usable Zones. 
  • Also, the overall strength of the arm was much better than when I first started therapy for the arm, but still a lot weaker than before the accident.
A lot of that progress has been lost.  When the pain started getting worse again, it was accompanied by intermittent scraping and grating sensations from within the shoulder.  (Not all the time, but any scraping sensations is cause for worry.)  Currently, even when the arm is just hanging at my side, there's a slight but noticeable aching; using the arm beyond that, even the light use I hadn't had much trouble with, makes the aching stronger, eventually going into actual sharp pain.  I've gone back to wearing my arm sling again when it gets bad; having the arm supported gives some relief, but it still takes longer, sometimes a lot longer, for the pain and aching to recede. 

The Functional Zone has shrunk, the Uncomfortable Zone has increased, the Forbidden Zone is still forbidden, and pain has become more chronic again.  This is not good.

I had a fresh set of x-rays done after the grating sensations started, and I was able to move up my next appointment with my orthopedic doctor at Mayo.  I saw him yesterday.

I was hoping what he'd tell me was "Your problem's simple.  I can do a laproscopic procedure, minimally invasive, in and out the same day, and you'll be back on track to recovery quickly."

No such luck.  The major source of problems appears to be that the tuberosity where the rotator cuff attaches to the humerus head replacement is displaced by a significant margin.  This is equivalent to having a major rotator cuff tear.  (And probably explains why I was able to get my arm up to 90 degrees with therapy, but increases beyond that have been minimal and painful.)

My doctor at Mayo isn't the surgeon who replaced the joint in December.  Immediately after the accident, I was taken to the closest hospital with a trauma unit, and the surgery was done there, not at Mayo, where I receive most of my usual medical care.  While it's a nearly unbreakable rule for doctors to badmouth other doctors, I felt a clear vibe of "If it had been me doing the replacement, you wouldn't have this problem."

A couple of additional factors may also be contributing:  Besides the actual break in the arm bone, the shoulder bones were badly compressed and squeezed in the accident.  There may still be lingering trauma after-effects from that.  And there was also a small shadow in the new x-ray that the doctor thought might be a loose bone fragment floating free.

The doctor offered several possible ways to proceed from this point:
  • Continue as before, with exercise and physical therapy, and hope that the pain and other problems get better.
  • Accept living a life with chronic pain.
  • Or go back into surgery for a reverse shoulder arthroplasty, replacing the first artificial joint with a different type.
The reverse shoulder prosthesis works backwards from the standard replacement prosthesis: Instead of putting a new ball-head on the arm bone, the ball head is screwed into the shoulder joint and a "cup" for it to fit into the arm bone.  Also, with the reverse prosthesis, arm and shoulder movement comes primarily from the deltoid muscle, rather than the rotator cuff.

The different joint won't give me a better range of motion.  Best results will still probably fall into the 75% to 85% range.  So even in a best-case scenario, my right arm is going to have limitations for the rest of my life.  OK, I can accept that.  I can live with that. I can do work-arounds for that.  (As if I had a choice.)

The chronic pain issue is a lot more intimidating.  A lot scarier.  Because this: Pain makes you stupid.

When you're in pain, even when you're not actually sweating or whimpering,  even when it's "normal pain" and not "sharp pain" or "intense pain", it's there, in your head, making itself known, insisting you recognize it.  It takes up brainspace that would normally be available for the ubiquitous "stuff" our lives are filled with.  Pain makes you lose focus, lose attention, lose thought.  Pain makes you stupid.

I'm not the most focused or organized person, to say the least.  (I suspect I'd probably score fairly high on an attention-deficit-disorder checklist.) I can't afford -- emotionally or pragmatically -- to be any dumber than I already am.  Living life with chronic pain like I've had the past several weeks is not an option.

My orthopedic doctor is having me do a shoulder aspiration on Monday.  This is where they draw some fluid from the shoulder area and send it for a battery of tests to check for any signs of infection.  It's also a requirement for surgery.  (Because you really, really, don't want a bone infection.)  So, unless there's significant improvement in the shoulder and attendant pain in the next few weeks (it takes about two weeks to get full test results back), I most likely will be having a new round of shoulder surgery sometime after that.

(Scheduling will partly depend on how much objection Workmens' Comp raises to the idea of a complete re-do of surgery.  I've actually been astonished by how cooperative and quick Travellers Insurance --who provide Workmens Comp insurance coverage for my employer -- has been in covering all the expenses.  On the other hand, they've already laid out over $100,000 on my case, and might want to send me for, at the least, a second opinion before agreeing to a new operation.)

I'm not at all happy about the idea of a second surgery, one that will put my progress back to the point immediately after the last surgery, with still more months of recovery and therapy following.  This seems an appropriate visual reference:


Signs of Spring

Screw the groundhog.  You know it's spring when the lizards start leapin'.

Those Darn Gorillas!

Back in my misspent youth, when comics were brain-rotting, life-ruining reading material (My Mom said so; she wouldn't lie to me, would she?), I read a lot of comics.  (Explains quite a bit, doesn't it?)  One of my favorite comics was STRANGE ADVENTURES, a science-fiction anthology-type comic.  Besides the more usual types of science fiction, with space aliens, shrinking serums, invisibility rays, giant monsters and the usual ilk, SA had... gorillas.  Quite a lot of gorillas, actually.
For whatever reason, writers for SA really loved gorillas.  Or maybe they were just scared of gorillas. 
Gorillas might also have been intended as a stand-in for Communists.  Communists were friggin everywhere back in the 50's and 60's.  (That monster in your closet when you were a little kid?  Commie.)  You couldn't actually see very many Communists, but you knew they were there, somewhere, plotting.
Back to gorillas.  Gorillas in STRANGE ADVENTURES might seem, at first, to be a mixed bag of unrelated and different stories, but once you realize that there was an extended story arc being told non-sequentially, you can see the entire far-reaching saga of Gorilla Vs. Human:
Our first mistake is giving gorillas familiarity with human thought processes.


Ern Malley and the Mithradatum of Arrogance

It's April Fool's Day.  Generally not an occasion I enjoy; I was the butt of too many "jokes" as a kid to appreciate them as an adult.  Also, it's confusing, because on some websites, like BOING BOING or TALKING POINTS MEMO, it can be hard to tell which posts are meant to be real and which the April Fool' hoax.

But here's an old hoax that I find rather appealing, because both hoaxed and hoaxers ended up hoist by their own petard:  Ern Malley, Australian Poet

Back in Australian poetry circles of 1944, there was a bit of antagonism between the traditionalist poets, using established formats and tropes, and the modernists, using symbolism and new styles like blank verse and free verse.

The leading figure among the modernists was a charismatic and brilliant fellow named Max Harris, who published a literary magazine, ANGRY PENGUINS, where modernist work and studies were presented.  Besides being well-liked and well-regarded, he was also a handsome fellow and popular with the ladies.  Whether that latter had anything to do with the friction between Harris and the traditionalist circles, I can't say, but it probably didn't help.

Two Australian traditionalist poets, James McAuley and Harold Stewart, came up with an idea to discredit the modernist school of poetry and humiliate Harris at the same time.  They wrote a set of sixteen poems, aping the modernist style, using what they considered the worst aspects of modernism.  They wrote, in their eyes, bad poems in a bad school of poetry.

They then created Ern Malley, unknown poet, dead poet, as the author of the poems, dead of Grave's Disease at a tragically young age, leaving only the sixteen poems as his legacy.  An equally imaginary sister, "Esther Malley", sent the poems to Harris, asking for an evaluation.

Harris published the poems in ANGRY PENGUINS, hailing the discovery of an accomplished (and tragically dead) new poet.

Then the truth came out.  And it was, indeed, embarassing and humiliating to Harris, that he'd been successfully fooled by two hoaxers.

Except... Harris stood by his judgment of the "Ern Malley" poems, insisting that they were worthwhile and meritorious, regardless of the true circumstances of their origin.

And... over the years, time has proven him right.  The Ern Malley poems have been reprinted numerous times, been the subject of critical studies, and inspired paintings and other art.  Whereas the traditionalist poetry written by Malley's creators has faded and vanished into the trashbin of history; they're remembered only for the merits of the poetry they wrote as "bad examples" of a poetry school they despised.

Max Harris went on past the embarassment of being hoaxed, becoming firmly established as one of Australia's distinguished men of letters before his death in 1995. 

Well, except for the obscenity trial.  Because the Malley poems contained a number of "sexual references", Harris, as the publisher of the poems, was brought to court on obscenity charges.  This was the bizarre icing on the hoax cake.  It's hard to believe that an obscenity charge could be seriously made even in the more Puritanical era of 1944.  From ernmalley.com, a description of one of the prosecution's arguments:
Detective Vogelesang, for the prosecution, insisted that Night Piece was obscene because: "Apparently someone is shining a torch in the dark, visiting through the park gates. To my mind they were going there for some disapproved motive ... I have found that people who go into parks at night go there for immoral purposes".
Even in 1940, that sounds like it would have been a stretch.   Reading that claim today, the pertinent words would be more along the lines of "mentally deranged".  Nonetheless, Harris was found guilty, although with a fairly light penalty, a five pound fine in lieu of six weeks in jail.

After the jump, I'll provide samples of both Ern Malley's and Max Harris' poetry.   Before that, though, a little craft project from cordit.org.au: